Tropical storm Hanna is closing in on North and South Carolina with receding flood waters in Haiti revealing the corpses of nearly 500 victims of the deadly weather system.
Hurricane Hanna as it nears the US coast Photo: AP
Hanna, the eighth tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, closed in on the US east coast on the verge of hurricane strength after leaving “catastrophic” conditions in Haiti, which it battered with strong winds and torrential rain for several days.
As five metres of muddy floodwaters drained from the port city of Gonaives and the first international aid began to arrive, Haitian police said they found the bodies of 495 storm victims. That brought the Haitian death toll from Hanna, the third deadly storm to strike the impoverished Caribbean nation in less than a month, to at least 529.
With more people missing, the toll was expected to rise, Ernst Dorfeuille, the town’s police commissioner, said.
As Hanna neared the US, a few hundred people in the most vulnerable regions headed to shelters and authorities declared states of emergency and placed several North Carolina beach communities under evacuation orders.
Storm alerts were issued from Georgia to New Jersey, including Washington DC, with Hanna forecast to bring up to 25 cms of rain to some areas, strong winds, storm surges and flash flooding.
Hard on Hanna’s heels, however, was a more worrying weather system: Hurricane Ike, a powerful category three storm currently tracing a similar path to Hurricane Andrew, the category five storm that devastated south Florida in 1992.
Forecasters said it was on course to pass over the Florida Keys island chain as a destructive category four hurricane before heading into the Gulf of Mexico, where around 4,000 offshore platforms produce a quarter of US crude oil and 15 percent of natural gas.
Visitors were ordered to start evacuating the Keys on Saturday and residents told to leave from Sunday.
Some computer models predicted Ike could pass near the densely populated Miami area, where up to 1.3 million people could be ordered to flee the coast.
US federal emergency management officials said they were readying supplies, rescue crews and other disaster personnel in Florida and along the Gulf Coast in preparation for Ike, which was forecast to reach the US by the middle of next week.
By early Saturday, Ike was 315 miles north-northeast of Puerto Rico and expected to sweep west over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southern Bahamas by Sunday.
The Bahamian government sent soldiers and emergency supplies to Mayaguana and San Salvador, southern islands left short of food and water by an overdue mail boat.
Tourists and residents meanwhile fled the Turks and Caicos, which were drenched and pummelled by the much weaker Hanna for four days earlier in the week.
Behind Ike, a third weather system, tropical storm Josephine, spun weakly across the eastern Atlantic, with 40-mph winds.
The trio of Atlantic storms follow Hurricane Gustav, which barrelled through the Caribbean before striking Louisiana to the west of New Orleans last Monday.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which usually sees 10 tropical storms of which six become hurricanes, is on course to be particularly busy.
Josephine is already the season’s 10th storm, with the peak of the six-month season not due until the middle of next week.
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 11:11AM BST 06 Sep 2008
Source: The Telegraph